Spokane Valley pediatric dentist Dr. Molly Gunsaulis, along with other dentists here, has begun offering the families of her young patients an intriguing new purpose for extracted baby teetha possible role in saving the child's life in the future.
Gunsaulis says she has begun offering families the opportunity to have such teeth sent to an East Coast lab, where the stem cells in them can be removed from the teeth and cryogenically preserved for future use. Healthy stem cells are known for their value in regenerating tissue and fighting disease.
Gunsaulis says she was the first pediatric dentist here to offer parents the option of having their childrens' extracted teeth sent to the lab to preserve the stem cells, but pediatric dentist Dr. Jared Evans, in Spokane Valley, also is offering the service now, as are Dr. Mark Paxton, of Spokane Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, and Dr. Brandy Richey, a South Hill general dentist. Gunsaulis says Richey was the first dentist of any kind here to offer the service. Attempts to reach Richey were not successful.
The service, for which Gunsaulis' practice makes no money, is offered by New York-based StemSave Inc. That company charges families $590 upfront for enrollment and processing and $100 a year to store the frozen stem cells until they're needed.
Baby teeth that simply fall out aren't suitable for stem-cell extraction. Gunsaulis offers the service only when a tooth needs to be extracted for another reason, such as at the request of an orthodontist. The tooth is immediately placed in a special collection kit, which induces hypothermia in the tooth so stem cells will remain alive while it's shipped to StemSave's lab near Boston.
Gunzaulis says she began offering the service in February, and so far, one parent has elected to use it, though a half-dozen others have expressed interest in it.
"I like to offer my patients everything within my practice to ensure their overall health," she says. "If it's good for my patients, it's good for my practice; that's my motto."
Gunsaulis' practice, Molly Gunsaulis D.D.S. Dentistry for Children, opened in November 2007 and is located at 15404 E. Springfield. It has roughly 2,000 patients, ranging in age from infants to 18.
She says baby teeth have the most accessible stem cells found in children. The cells are contained in the pulp of healthy teeth, she adds. The pulp is the soft tissue that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue, and it is within the tooth and extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the root in the bone of the jaws, the American Dental Association says.
Gunsaulis says, "Stem cell research has demonstrated very promising advances in the treatment of a wide variety of health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, leukemia, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and periodontal disease."
Still, she says, "No one, myself included, knows for certain what the full possibilities are for the stem cells isolated from teeth, nor can I, or anyone for that matter, accurately predict if or when they'll be used in clinical settings in the future, but I love having the option available for my discerning parents."
Arthur Greco, StemSave's CEO in New York, says about 500 dentists nationwide are working with StemSave in the same way that Gunsaulis is. He says 14 dentists in Washington state offer the service to interested parents.
Once a dentist extracts a baby tooth from which stem cells will be removed, the special collection kit and tooth inside will arrive within 48 hours at StemSave's lab, he says. Once at the lab, the viability of the cells are verified, and if they're viable, they're cryogenically stored for the family, Greco says.
Cryopreservation stops all cellular metabolism, basically freezing the stem cells at an unusually low temperature, he says. All types of stem cells, whether from bone marrow, skin, teeth, or other sources, need to be cryogenically preserved if they are going to be used in the future, he says.
So far, stem cells from baby teeth have not been used outside the laboratory, he says. "But that's going to change very soon."
He adds, "The best stem cells are your own." Wisdom teeth from young adults contain valuable stem cells that also can be preserved, he says.
Using a patient's own stem cells for medical treatment means there is a much lower risk of rejection by the body and decreases the need for powerful drugs that weaken the immune system, Greco says. While embryonic stem cells are the only stem cells that can be used to regenerate all other human cells, they would not be a patient's own stem cells.
Still, he says, stem cells from teeth are notable for their "plasticity," or their ability to differentiate into many types of tissue, such as that in muscles, neurons, bones, organs, skin, and cartilage. Stem cells from skin, for example, are only used to make skin, he says.
"And the younger the stem cells are, the better," he says. Newer stem cells, such as those from baby teeth, work faster as they regenerate tissue, he says. Stem cells age as people get older, so over time stem cells aren't able to keep up with degradation of the body, he says.
The best time to recover baby teeth is before the teeth become very loose, as the cells in the dental pulp will remain more viable if they continue to have a blood supply, he says. That's why if a tooth gets too loose or falls out, it's not good for stem-cell use, Gunsaulis says.
"Parents appreciate having this new and cutting-edge service available to them for the first time," she says. "Saving stem cells now gives families the opportunity to take advantage of new and future stem-cell technologies in a way not possible in the past."
Most parents realize that their children will live to see medical treatments develop in their lifetimes that will extend and improve their lives, Gunsaulis says.
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